AAR Book Club, September 2009:
Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase


Welcome to the second edition of AAR’s new Book Club. Readers picked the selection this time out and, not too surprisingly, the choice they settled on is Lord of Scoundrels, a perennial AAR favorite. Our discussion leaders this time are reviewers Lea Hensley and Heather Brooks. We hope you’ll enjoy Heather and Lea’s take on the book, read the book yourselves, and then join us on Sunday, September 27th at 4 p.m. eastern time for a live discussion with AAR staffers and readers.



Lord of Scoundrels

Loretta Chase

1995, European Historical Romance (1820s)

Avon, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0380776162

Grades: Heather A, Lea A

Sensuality: Hot

Heather and Lea’s Take

A book with immense staying power, Lord of Scoundrels is a long time favorite of AAR’s readers. In 2000, it firmly grabbed the number one place in AAR’s Top 100 Romances Poll and hasn’t let go since. Last month, readers reaffirmed their love for this book when, by a significant margin, they chose Lord of Scoundrels as their selection for this month’s AAR Book Club.

Sebastian Ballister, the notorious Marquess of Dain, is big, bad, and dangerous to know. No respectable woman would have anything to do with the “Bane and Blight of the Ballisters” – and he wants nothing to do with respectable women. He’s determined to continue doing what he does best – sin and sin again – and all that’s going swimmingly, thank you…until the day a shop door opens and she walks in.

Jessica Trent is a determined young woman, and she’s going to drag her imbecile brother off the road to ruin, no matter what it takes. If saving him – and with him, her family and future – means taking on the devil himself, she won’t back down. The trouble is, the devil in question is so shockingly irresistible, and the person who needs the most saving is – herself!

Lea: Upfront I must admit that each time I have participated in AAR’s Top 100 Romances Poll, Lord of Scoundrels has been my number one choice and an easy choice at that. Heather, I see that you agree with my A grade but what was your overall impression?

Heather: Oh, this is one of my favorites. Books like this are the reason I read romance. It’s one of those few books that I can read over and over and always find a reason to pick it back up again. The tortured hero is my favorite and Dain’s truly tortured and there’s nothing better than a smart, sensible heroine, which Jessica is. If I ever recommend romance to someone not familiar with the genre, this is the one I recommend. It brings out the tears and the laughter and is truly well written.

Lea: Although it’s been six years since I first read Lord of Scoundrels, my first thought when I hear it mentioned is still “Wow!” After finishing my third read of this eternal favorite last week, I was once again amazed at its originality and it remains one of brightest, funniest, and wittiest books I have had the pleasure of reading. Dain and Jessica make such a vibrant couple who, as exact opposites, so completely compliment the other although hard-headed Dain takes his time in reaching that conclusion. And Dain’s slow but believable evolvement is the main subject matter here as Chase takes an ever-so-typical tormented hero and makes the experience entirely atypical.

Heather: Lea, I understand exactly what you mean about Dain and Jessica being such a vibrant couple and I think so much of that goes back to the fact that Chase excels in character driven romances. One of my favorite aspects of Lord of Scoundrels was how Chase lays out the backgrounds for her characters up front so that you know exactly where they’re coming from and what their motivations are. For example, Dain is bad, but we know why Dain is bad from the very beginning and therefore he is a much more sympathetic character as a result. When you see Dain do the awful things he does to Jessica, the reader knows he only does so because he’s scared to care and then be abandoned. Whereas with Jessica, she’s had to take care of Bertie and all the young males of the family for what seems like her entire life. Hence, she’s a managing (okay, insert manipulative) female, and manages Dain quite effectively, which he needs. What are your thoughts on Chase laying out the backgrounds of the characters right at the beginning of the book?

Lea: See, I’ve heard complaints from some readers about those first 15 pages that are totally dedicated to Dain’s background (and I must admit that it’s not how I preferred to start either) but I absolutely agree this prologue is essential to understanding Dain’s motives and gives readers permission to enjoy some of his reprobate behavior. Jessica needs little background other than her history as the sensible one who is also a “fixer”. Ms. Chase takes one rude and arrogant man and matches him with a confident realist of a woman, (who just happens to find him very sexy) and has me rooting for their success, while understanding their weaknesses, by page 25. Being acclimated to the story so quickly made the enjoyment all that much greater.

Talking about Dain’s background naturally leads to the most interesting aspect of the book for me – Dain’s character. Not only is it important to Dain that he live a dissolute, haughty, and brutish lifestyle but he wants everyone to know he does. I thought the constant monologue in Dain’s head to be one of the most delightful aspects of the book. Even as he’s showing the world just how thoroughly thoughtless and selfish he is, he’s fighting his thoughts and feelings where Jessica is concerned and, in the process, showing the reader he’s not so heartless after all…well, not all of the time. I guess I would call him a work in progress and saw his struggle to remain debauched quite amusing. How did you view Dain’s character? Did you see him as much more than the typical bad boy tortured hero?

Heather: I’m going to gush here, but I can’t help it. Dain is the ultimate in tortured heroes and my favorite. He has a reason to be a tortured hero, not some completely transparent excuse to create tension between the hero and heroine. It’s not that he blames all females for his feelings irrationally – for him it’s a learned behavior from years of neglect and rejection. He’s emotionally paralyzed and when Jessica gives an inkling of response to him, he wants it so bad, but can’t accept that it could possibly be real. His fear tortures him. On a lighter note, I love how Dain constantly finds himself editing the term female in his mental dictionary. After all these years, I look forward to reading those mental edits.

Lea: Visualization of a character is an important aspect of reading for me personally and although Dain is described repeatedly as ugly with a gigantic nose, I could never picture him as such. Could that be due to the fact that he is such a “man’s man” who conducts his life with such complete confidence (at least to the outside world) or is it that I pictured Dain through Jessica’s eyes? How did you see Dain in your head (or do you have a need to visualize)?

Heather: I don’t think that Dain can see himself rationally. He was rejected by his mother and his father for reasons he didn’t understand and then went to school where the boys made fun of his looks because he was different. The rejection made him feel wrong internally and externally. Though some may call him “big beak” even as adults, in my opinion they still respected him and wanted to be within his circle of acquaintances. Hence I agree with “man’s man” idea. I don’t think anyone saw him as he pictured himself. The women shied away from him, but I think that was due more to the reputation that he made for himself as an adult rather than his appearance. Also, Jessica picks up on his allure instantly and after their initial meeting, I only see him through her eyes.

Lea: Playing against Dain’s irrepressible bad boy is the levelheaded Jessica with a sparkling wit of her own. She refuses to back down to the meanest guy around nor will she allow Dain to intimidate her. As she is battling Dain for the control of her brother’s life, she is fighting a great deal of lust herself. One of my favorite passages is the one playing in Jessica’s head as she sits in a café with Dain locked in verbal warfare.

“Most of all she wanted to press her lips to his hard, dissolute mouth and kiss him senseless.

Of course, all such a demented assault would get her would be a position flat on her back and the swift elimination of her maidenhead – very possibly in full view of the café’s patrons. Then, if he was in a good humor, he might give her a friendly slap on the bottom as he told her to run along, she reflected gloomily.”

Heather, what are some of your favorite recollections of Jessica?

Heather: Dain’s emotions are so irrational that Jessica’s character has to be as rational as possible. There’s nothing better than a smart heroine who wants to be debauched by the ultimate in bad boys. I like the fact that she doesn’t deny her attraction and manipulates the situation to get what she wants for herself. I think my favorite scene with Jessica was the one right after she gets a glimpse of Dain’s son, Dominick, and fusses at Dain for letting the boy get away. Her reaction gets right to the heart of her character.

Excuse me, I going to gush again. A large part of Lord of Scoundrels’s appeal to me is the verbal sparring between the characters. It sets the tone of the book from their very first encounter, plus I find Chase’s dialogue some of the most witty and intelligent written. When Jessica responds to Dain’s comments about women while in Champtios shop with the line,

“That, Bertie, is a consequence of the feminine brain having reached a more advanced state of development…” “She recognizes that the selection of a gift requires the balancing of profoundly complicated moral, psychological aesthetic, and sentimental equation. I should not recommend that a mere male attempt to involve himself in the delicate process of balancing it, especially by the primitive method of counting.”

…you see just how Jessica thinks that love should be given while cutting to the core of Dain’s misconceptions regarding all the feminine gender and what they value. What do you think of the verbal sparring between Dain and Jessica?

Lea: It seems as though we must gush together on this one as I agree with you about the level of witty and intelligent sparring – it’s among the very best in my mind, especially as a historical romance. There’s nary a boring moment between these two (honestly – I can’t think of one) as they both thrill to the challenge of antagonizing the other. Jessica holds a special talent for provoking Dain as she rants at him or stays cool in the midst of his attempts to provoke her. I especially love Dain’s reactions when Jessica points out his emotional side.

In further contribution to the immense love fest I seem to be perpetuating here, I must add that events that lead to the turning point of Lord of Scoundrels left me with my mouth gaping in shock. I don’t dare say too much for those who have not yet read Lord of Scoundrels, but it is the single most memorable incident in all my years of reading romance. Did you have the same sense of surprise?

Heather: As we know, their sparring goes well beyond the verbal at a particular point. When I first read it, I hadn’t encountered anything like it in any book I’d read prior and like you, I was shocked. I loved how the men in his circle scattered, except for Beaumont that is, and how Jessica could see the fear in Dain’s eyes, which he completely deserved. It was planned and she took calculated risks. The high drama and unexpectedness of this scene is just one of the many reasons I love this book.

Lea: More often than not, once the leads marry, the plot heads downhill as well as the sense of energetic interaction that precedes the setup/lead-in to the marriage. What are your thoughts here since Jessica and Dain’s marriage occurs before the mid-point of the book?

Heather: You’re right, in many books marriage is the downhill slope. However, I don’t think that’s the case here because Dain has so many issues to work out still – the paralysis, the fact that his wife is a virgin, his mother issues, and of course, his son. While the sexual tension that’s present at the beginning isn’t as dominant, the plot is still as engaging as it was in the beginning in my opinion.

Lea: I too think the action doesn’t lessen a bit as the adventures of Jessica and Dain continue in high gear once they marry. They persist in their challenges towards one another as they test the boundaries of their relationship. The introduction of Dominick, as well as Dain’s feelings towards his mother, certainly added another level of emotion that I found effective for the most part. However, I can find reason for complaint here – all is fixed a bit too easily and quickly to be totally convincing.

Heather: To conclude our gush-fest, I want to add that Lord of Scoundrels, for me, is one of those books that sets the standard for romance. With sizzling sexual tension and incredible dialogue, it’s a page-turner all the way through. The characters are believably multi-dimensional whose problems aren’t solved magically. It’s one that stays with me and makes me laugh out loud as well as cry every time I read it. Lea, do you have any final thoughts on Lord of Scoundrels that you’d like to add?

Lea: Yes, I want to mention briefly the amount of change Dain’s character undergoes over the course of the book. All too often we see a rough hero change his personality to deliver the HEA and I always feel shortchanged, if not a bit enraged, when that occurs. Dain stays true to his initial character but develops an appropriate tenderness towards Jessica and Dominick that enables him to view the rest of the world with less cynicism. I agree, Heather, with your page-turner reference and add that Chase doesn’t rely on suspense to drive it to its conclusion. Although there is a slight suspense subplot towards the end, the story remains Jessica and Dain’s. Character driven – that’s how I like them best.

Heather: We hope that you’ll join us for the live discussion of Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels at AAR on Sunday, September 27th at 4:00 EST. If you haven’t read it, pick it up and join the fun. I look forward to hearing others’ opinions (good and bad) regarding Jessica and Dain’s story.

— Heather Brooks and Lea Hensley


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